Hydrogen Fuel Technology: How Fuel Cells Work and Is It the Future?

October 31, 2012

Due to popular interest in developing green fuels, hydrogen fuel technology has been put forward as one solution to the problem of powering cars in the future. Hydrogen gas is a very versatile way of carrying energy from one location to another, and used in a fuel cell, it could be the answer that many car drivers are looking for. While hydrogen fuel technology is in its infancy, there are promising ideas that make it look as though hydrogen fuel technology is the future.

How a Hydrogen Fuel Cell Works

The hydrogen fuel cell is made up of an electrolyte and two types of electrode, known as an anode and a cathode. Metal plates on either side of the cell are used to power the gases, and also help to collect the electricity which is created there. There are a could of different types of fuel cell, including stationary fuel cells which are used for powering up many small items such as batteries, portable devices and even electric generators. Larger fuel cells are currently being used to power ships, coaches and even trucks, but as yet they have limited use as personal vehicle fuel systems.

In one type of hydrogen fuel technology, known as a Polymer Electrolyte Membrane, the gas is sent through a number of tubes or channels towards the anode, which uses a catalyst to separate the cells and produce protons and electrons. Only the protons are passed through to the membrane, while the electrons are sent to the cathode. These electrons are then converted into energy as electricity. Once the electrons have been used as energy, they are mixed with oxygen and the remaining protons to form water, which is then pushed out of the car as the waste product.

The Future of Hydrogen Fuel Technology

Although hydrogen cars offer a great opportunity for using and creating energy, most types of fuel cell can only create 1 volt of electricity, at the most. This amount is hardly enough to even power a small device, let alone something as demanding and energy-hungry as the car. In order to build up the amount of energy created, it is necessary to make a whole stack of hydrogen fuel cells, which can power laptops, or even homes. To illustrate the demands on the hydrogen fuel cell, the average gas powered car consumes around 50 to 120 kilowatts of electricity. These demands put a serious limitation on the practicality of producing cars powered by hydrogen fuel technology.

In order to create the perfect hydrogen car, developers are looking at two problematical areas, cost and endurance. The size of the fuel cells needed to power most cars means that at the moment, hydrogen cars are too expensive to be sold to the general public, and only a few prototypes have been made by most car makers. The future of hydrogen cars also requires that the components of the fuel cell be made more durable, in order to survive the wear and tear of car use, as well as possible impacts.